The Roca Brothers, Famous For Fusing Food And Tech, Hit The Road

Aug 8, 2016
Originally published on August 8, 2016 6:21 pm

Beef cheeks sizzle in a frying pan. Oysters float in melon puree. And culinary students from all over the world huddle in silent rapture around a stove in central London.

Food gods are in their midst.

The Roca brothers — Joan, Josep and Jordi — are the chef-proprietors of El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant in northeast Spain that's among the top-rated in the world. To international foodies, the Rocas are rock stars of haute cuisine.

"It's just a completely different level. It's past just cooking for the people," says Thomas Muza, a Polish chef waiting in line to take a selfie with the Rocas at Westminster Kingsway College in central London, where they taught a master class. "It's about creating things. Unbelievable!"

The Roca brothers are famous for fusing technology and food. They may serve up edible moss, or pork disguised as fish — and vice versa. They often cook with blow torches. One signature dish is served under a glass dome filled with smoke.

El Celler de Can Roca, which is in Spain's Catalonia region, near the border with France, has three Michelin stars. A typical meal there will set you back several hundred dollars — if you can get a table. Reservations for all of this year sold out in just eight minutes online.

But this month, the restaurant is shut while the Rocas go on tour. They're cooking gourmet pop-up meals in five cities over five weeks: London, Hong Kong, Phoenix, San Francisco and Santiago.

"Each new city means a new kitchen, new people to work with, new students. We don't even know where the spoons are!" jokes Ignacio Tena Rubio, who works with BBVA, the Spanish bank sponsoring the Roca brothers' tour.

Price tag: undisclosed. There's an entourage of 35 traveling sous-chefs — all part of the staff at the Roca brothers' restaurant — with hundreds of suitcases. Each cook brings his or her own lucky spatula or chopsticks. In Spain, the team has a research center and private farm. On tour, they're huddled into small, often sweltering hotel galley kitchens. Tena calls it the biggest logistical challenge ever attempted in the world of haute cuisine.

"Usually, at a high-end restaurant, they change the menu maybe one dish per year, or two to three dishes per year," Tena says. "This summer, we will have five different 20-dish menus for five weeks. It's madness!"

The Roca brothers did a reconnaissance trip last spring to visit local farms in each of the five locations. They choose local ingredients in every place. The brothers are UN Goodwill Ambassadors, supporting sustainable farming around the world. The middle brother, Josep, is just back from Nigeria, where he launched a program to cut back on food waste.

On tour, these private dinners are free, but most of those invited are BBVA clients.

The bank benefits from its association with top chefs, who are celebrities in Spain and the rest of the culinary world. The Roca brothers get to spread their recipes far from their home kitchen. Two lucky culinary students from each location will travel back to Spain with the brothers to work at their restaurant.

"It's a logistical challenge, and a creative one," says Joan Roca, the oldest brother and head chef. "Even if you're one of the best restaurants in the world, you still need to get out of your house — to learn and change."

The Roca brothers arrive in Phoenix on August 14th, and San Francisco on the 20th.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This summer, one of the world's top-rated restaurants is taking its kitchen on the road, and it's a big logistical challenge. The crew is cooking gourmet pop-up meals in five cities over five weeks. They arrive in the U.S. later this month - first Phoenix, then San Francisco. Reporter Lauren Frayer joined them on the first leg of their tour in London.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Beef cheeks sizzle in a pan. Oysters float in melon puree. And students at this London culinary school huddle around a stove in a kind of rapture.

(APPLAUSE)

FRAYER: The visiting Roca brothers - Joan, Josep and Jordi - are like rock stars of international haute cuisine, says Thomas Muza, a Polish chef waiting in line to take a selfie with them.

THOMAS MUZA: It's just completely different level. It's past just cooking for the people. It's about creating things - unbelievable.

FRAYER: The Roca brothers are famous for fusing technology and food. They serve edible moss and pork disguised as fish. They often cook with blow torches. One signature dish is served under a glass dome filled with smoke. Their family restaurant in Northeast Spain, El Celler de Can Roca, has three Michelin Stars. A typical meal there will set you back several hundred dollars if you can get a table. Reservations for all of this year sold out in just eight minutes online. This month, the restaurant is shut while the Rocas go on tour to London, Hong Kong, Phoenix, San Francisco and Santiago de Chile.

IGNACIO TENA RUBIO: Each time we change the city, that's an adventure. It's a new kitchen, new people to work with, new students. We don't even know where the spoons are.

FRAYER: Ignacio Tena Rubio works with BBVA, a Spanish bank sponsoring the tour. There's an entourage of 35 traveling sous chefs. Back home, the Rocas have a research center and a private farm. Here, they're huddled into a small, sweltering hotel kitchen. Tena calls this the biggest logistical challenge ever attempted in the world of haute cuisine.

TENA: Usually a high-end restaurant - they change the menu - maybe one dish per year. We will have five different 20-dishes menus for five weeks. It's madness, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The salmon row are from Scotland.

FRAYER: They choose local ingredients in every country. The Roca brothers are U.N. goodwill ambassadors, supporting sustainable farming around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you, everyone, for attending.

FRAYER: On tour, these private dinners are free, but most of those invited are BBVA clients. The Roca brothers get to spread their recipes far from their home kitchen. Two lucky culinary students from each location will travel back to Spain with the brothers to work at their restaurant.

JOAN ROCA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's a logistical challenge and a creative one," says Joan Roca, the oldest brother and head chef. "Even if you're one of the best restaurants in the world," he says, "you still need to get out of your house to learn and change." The Roca brothers arrive in Phoenix August 14 and San Francisco on the 20th. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.